The Right to Farm Act protects farmers from being sued by their neighbors. The RTFA says that a person cannot sue an agricultural operation for a nuisance arising out of a normal agricultural operation more than one year after the operation started or was substantially expanded or altered. This one year limitation is a “statute of repose.” That means that neighbors have no more than one year to bring a complaint, even if an injury or problem occurred after the year expired. A recent case (Burlingame, et al. v. Dagostin) provided another victory for farmers.
In this case, a group of neighbors complained when a farmer began spreading liquefied swine manure (LSM) from its finishing operation onto their farm. When I say “group of neighbors” I mean a big group. I counted 83 Plaintiffs in the caption. The Dagostins operated Will-O-Bet Farm since 1955. In 2011, they switched from a beef farm to a swine finishing operation. They received their CAFO permit and nutrient management plan approval in 2012. They began spreading LSM in June 2013. In May of 2014, a large group of the neighbors brought a suit for nuisance because of the odors of the manure. Both the Trial Court and the Superior Court held that the Right to Farm Act did not allow neighbors to bring this action because the action was started more than one year after the agricultural operation started.
Most of the neighbors’ complaints were due to the spreading of manure on the farm, not the CAFO swine finishing operation. The Court determined that the operations of the farm existed for longer than one year. Even though the use of LSM on the Will-O-Bet Farm was a different operation, the expansion of the farm operations and the building of the CAFO were addressed in approved nutrient management plans prior to the CAFO operation. Because of this, the manure spreading operations are protected by the Right to Farm Act.
This ruling is great news for farmers. Today, lots of the newer generation farmers – whether they are the second generation or the fifth generation on the farm – are looking at different types of concentrated animal operations as a way to keep the farm financially viable. This ruling says that the farmer is allowed to rely on the decades that the farm existed before the operation was expanded. This ruling upholds the spirit of the Right to Farm Act, which wants to protect established farms against the encroachment of residential neighbors.
Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Commercial Real Estate, Land Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.